2008-07-11 / Editorial/Opinion

It's My Turn

By Lisa Eckert Superintendent Jamaica Bay Unit Gateway National Recreation Area

Lisa Eckert
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to The Wave Opinion from Friday, June 27, as well as other opinions voiced within The Wave this past month.

Gateway is a part of a national system of parks; there are 391 national parks that protect slices of our country's natural and cultural icons. Five parks are in the New York area sharing stories ranging from the immigration story at Ellis Island, to the importance of the salt marshes that are part of Gateway's ecosystem.

Federal law creates national parks. In our management of parks, we follow law and policy that is established by the Congress and the National Park Service Director. We cannot, nor should we as responsible stewards, change the rules for a few individuals. As a part of our law, we are allowed to use Special Use Permits to authorize special events or activities that are otherwise restricted or regulated.

In 2006 the U.S. Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit on the National Park Service's permit system. The Inspector General concluded that Gateway was not fully in compliance; specifically, we were not utilizing the appropriate mechanism of authority or levels of environmental assessment. Corrective actions needed to be implemented at the Jamaica Bay Unit and that fell to me, a fairly new manager to Gateway.

The Jamaica Bay Unit issues 150 special use permits (SUP) each year. Applications are reviewed to determine the tie to the NPS mission, impacts to resources or the general public, and staff availability, all requirements set by law and policy. By law, no taxpayer dollars authorized by Congress in our annual budget may be used for this activity, which means that all personnel costs, supplies, utilities, etc. are charged to the organizer as "cost-recovery." This, along with all other terms and conditions of the permit, must be followed or the permit may be suspended.

The Rockaway Music and Arts Council (RMAC) applied for a Special Use Permit in April 2008 for Jacob Riis Park. Ayear and a half earlier, the NPS had met with RMAC, along with other special interest groups and politicians to inform them of the OIG findings, changes in law (specifically the 1998 Omnibus Act), and share our new Special Event Manual describing national policy and our standard operating procedures.

Consequently, during the 2007 concerts the RMAC emcee announced the new location for the concerts and until recently the RMAC webpage advertised the Riis Park location.

During a June meeting, RMAC organizers expressed concern about using the Riis Park Mall. Robert Moses specifically designed this grassy oasis in order to hold public events such as concerts; the NPS wishes to return to this historic and traditional use. Views to the north expose the Manhattan skyline; to the south are the ocean waves of Bay 9. There are more restroom facilities and closer areas for accessible parking.

This area costs less for cost-recovery, something that had been a major concern for RMAC. And after 6 p.m., parking is free.

Instead, RMAC officials asked to use the courtyard at the Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse. We agreed and their permit is ready for signature for that location.

However, on July 2 we were notified that RMAC is cancelling the summer concert series.

The cancellation is their choice, not that of the NPS. We are ready to host the RMAC concerts.

National parks are an American invention, just like baseball and apple pie. Congress authorized the first urban national park to be in New York City one century after the establishment of the world's first national park, Yellowstone. That is quite a legacy and that slice of our nation's heritage is our backyard.

Right now Gateway is beginning the challenge of preparing a new General Management Plan, the "blueprint" or road map that will guide the park's operations for the next 10- 15 years. Part of this process includes seeking input from the general public. Although I will not be here to work with you on this major initiative, I wish to invite everyone to participate.

I also want to thank all of you who have worked closely with me to ensure that the Jamaica Bay Unit's resources are protected, and that all visitors have safe and enjoyable visits. Last autumn when Beverly Baxter interviewed me, she was intrigued at the diversity of the parks I had worked and the striking differences between those parks and Gateway. My response dwelled more on the similarity of the humanity. All of the 12 parks I have worked share the common bond that people care about their parks. Thank you for caring.

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